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Catholic Coalition Launches New Contraceptive Coverage Lawsuit

Catholic Coalition Launches New Contraceptive Coverage Lawsuit

March 13, 2014 — A coalition of nearly 200 Catholic organizations on Wednesday asked a federal judge for an injunction against the federal contraceptive coverage rules, arguing that the government's accommodation for religiously affiliated organizations still requires employers to violate their religious beliefs, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports (McBride, AP/Sacramento Bee, 3/12).

The contraceptive coverage rules, which are being implemented under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148), require most for-profit, private businesses to offer contraceptive coverage in their employer-sponsored health plans. Houses of worship are exempt from the requirement, and religiously affiliated not-for-profits are eligible for an accommodation that ensures they do not have to pay for or directly provide coverage to their employees (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/12).

Religiously affiliated not-for-profits that object to contraceptive coverage must complete a form that states their objection. Doing so requires the organizations' insurers or a third-party administrator to organize and pay for the birth control coverage options for the organizations' employees.

Lawsuit Details

The Catholic Benefits Association -- a recently formed coalition of Catholic archdioceses, an insurance company and a nursing home -- filed suit in the same federal court as the owners of Hobby Lobby, an arts-and-crafts retail chain whose owners also oppose contraceptive coverage. Hobby Lobby won favorable rulings in that court and in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and it is set to argue its case before the Supreme Court later this month.

In its filing, the Catholic Benefits Association said that it wants to offer insurance that does not include contraceptive coverage. The organization requested a temporary injunction to block enforcement of the rules, arguing that signing the form would make its members complicit in actions that violate their religious beliefs. The group also argued that the government's definition of a "religious employer" is too narrow.

In addition, the group argued that the government has provided "countless" other exemptions to the rules, including for small businesses, grandfathered insurance plans and other religious groups, such as the Amish and three evangelical health care-sharing ministries. "The government's interest in the widespread availability of contraception cannot be compelling when defendants have exempted millions of plans, covering tens of millions of employees, from the mandate," the group said.

The coalition also said that the government does not have grounds to favor other religions over the Catholic faith (AP/Sacramento Bee, 3/12).